Sunday, February 13, 2011

Egypt Year Zero, Day One

Democracy continues to flower in Egypt as the military has dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution, and promised to hold elections in September (that's soon, but not *too* soon). Also, the military won't lift emergency rule. Supposedly, this is cool with the "opposition." Really, you mean Google has an executive who wants military rule?
The Egyptian military, complying with most of the principal demands of the opposition, said Sunday that it had dissolved the country’s parliament, suspended its constitution and called for elections in six months, according to a statement by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces read on state television. It also said it would honor all of Egypt’s international agreements, including the peace treaty with Israel.

The military did not address a third major opposition demand to lift emergency rule. In previous statements, the council had promised to take that step once the security situation improved.

The announcement, the first indication of the direction the military intends to take the country, was welcomed by opposition leaders, who distrusted both houses of parliament after elections in the fall that were widely considered rigged. One of them, Ayman Nour, said that the military’s actions should be enough to satisfy the protesters, some of whom nevertheless refused to leave Tahrir Square and resisted soldiers’ attempts to evict them.

The Voice of Progressive Foreign Policy has already come out and declared that America could learn a lot from Egypt. We're going to be hearing a lot about this

The truth is that the United States has been behind the curve not only in Tunisia and Egypt for the last few weeks, but in the entire Middle East for decades. We supported corrupt autocrats as long as they kept oil flowing and weren’t too aggressive toward Israel. Even in the last month, we sometimes seemed as out of touch with the region’s youth as a Ben Ali or a Mubarak. Recognizing that crafting foreign policy is 1,000 times harder than it looks, let me suggest four lessons to draw from our mistakes:

1.) Stop treating Islamic fundamentalism as a bogyman and allowing it to drive American foreign policy. American paranoia about Islamism has done as much damage as Muslim fundamentalism itself.

Back in the day ca. 1950 - 1989 we used to hear this line about the communists, probably from Kristof himself.

2.) We need better intelligence, the kind that is derived not from intercepting a president’s phone calls to his mistress but from hanging out with the powerless.

Agreed we need better intelligence. Our Ivy League educated president and his national security team have managed to be wrong in every possible way throughout the uprising, mostly out of vanity; they want to be seen as somehow controlling events in an alien society thousands of miles from their DC-Area desks.

3.) New technologies have lubricated the mechanisms of revolt. Facebook and Twitter make it easier for dissidents to network.

Facebook, Twitter, and Google, oh my! If you search the Times archives from 1979, are we going to read how word processors and fax machines were "crucial" to overthrowing the Shah?

4.) Let’s live our values. We pursued a Middle East realpolitik that failed us. Condi Rice had it right when she said in Egypt in 2005: “For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither.”

I'm sure it kills Kristof to write that about Condi Rice, as much as it kills his readers to have to read it. Nothing wrong with her message, but I don't recall hearing a lot of liberal voices back then yelling "hear! hear!" In fact, when liberals talked about Rice and her boss back then, it was to denounce them as liars and baby killers.

After a long wishy-washy stage, President Obama got it pitch-perfect on Friday when he spoke after the fall of Mr. Mubarak. He forthrightly backed people power, while making clear that the future is for Egyptians to decide. Let’s hope that reflects a new start not only for Egypt but also for American policy toward the Arab world. Inshallah.

This is going to be set in stone, isn't it? No matter how awful the Egypt situation becomes - and given history and circumstance, the potential is there for permanent military rule or a Islamist theocracy - there are going to be Smart Power types burbling about "Democracy" and how Americans are just too dumb to understand the Middle East. 20 years from now, we may yet see a wizened John Kerry engaging in shuttle diplomacy, visiting his "old friend" General Hoedihoe or Imam Raufamauf in Cairo to resolve the latest flare-up over the Israeli settlements in the Sinai Desert (which the Little Satan took back in the 18-hour War of 2019). Whether the Egyptian people will be as happy to see Kerry as their oppressors will be remains to be seen.

Look I'm all for the Egyptians setting up a constitutional republic and all that. But, this great desire among the Obami to declare the Egyptian uprising to be "solved" is freakishly wrong footed. Egypt remains in flux, dangerously so. To simply kick back and say, "Ah, democracy and people power prevailed" is a recipe for waking up one morning to find a Hamas-style theocracy taking the reins in Cairo. For Americans, vigilence and humility (about those unknown unknows at work even now) should be, but aren't, the watchword.

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